Jochen Rindt (Lotus 72-Ford) leads Jacky Ickx, en route to victory
at Hockenheim. (LAT archive)
42 years ago today, the tragic loss of Jochen Rindt in a crash at Monza meant that F1 would have a posthumous World Champion for the 1970 season. He was 28.
Rindt was touched by tragedy at a young age. After his parents were killed in a bombing raid in Hamburg during World War II, he was raised by his grandparents in Graz, Austria. Although he never became an Austrian citizen, he did drive his entire career under an Austrian racing license.
Renowned for his car control and reflexes, Rindt made his Formula 1 debut for the Rob Walker's independent team in 1964, and raced for the Cooper and Brabham teams from 1965-'68, but none of them were able to provide him with a competitive car. It was on his move to Team Lotus for 1969 that his F1 career took off. He scored his first win that year at Watkins Glen in the Lotus 49 and then scored an amazing win in the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix, again in a 49 which was by then a four-year-old design.
With the radical new 72 now ready, though, Rindt went on a winning spree, with four consecutive victories. The car's advantage was such that Jochen, becoming ever more aware of the perils of auto racing (in tandem with his great friend and rival Jackie Stewart's safety campaign), altered his driving style. From being a thrilling seat-of-the-pants driver in previous Lotuses, Brabhams and Coopers, Rindt became Stewart-like, usually doing just enough to win.
Then, in practice for the Italian GP at Monza, Rindt slewed off course in the run down to the Parabolica corner, due to a mechanical failure, and suffered fatal injuries when his car dug under a crash barrier. An Italian court later found that the accident was initiated by a failure of the car's right-front brakeshaft, but that Rindt's death was caused by poorly installed barriers.
As David Tremayne recounts in his book, Jochen Rindt: Uncrowned King, Stewart had been especially driven to beat Ferrari's Jacky Ickx in the penultimate race at Watkins Glen to prevent him from beating Rindt's points total.
“The thing I wanted most, after Jochen died,” Stewart told Tremayne, “was to be sure that he won the World Championship. At one time there was a doubt whether it would be awarded to him, even if nobody else surpassed his points total. I felt very strongly that it should be awarded to him. I really could not imagine anyone taking this honor away; it really would have been a terrible thing.”
Stewart opened up a big early lead on Ickx, and the matter was settled when Ickx's Ferrari suffered a ruptured fuel line. Although Ickx subsequently won the finale in Mexico, Rindt's points total was safe.
Four decades later, Rindt's story continues to resonate. In 2009, his life was set to music in an opera, staged in Salzburg, Austria.
"As tragic as the end of this hero of the pop-era was, we remember him with the sentiment that he did not die for nothing," said opera director Hubert Lepka. "Often, the triteness of his accidental death flagrantly contradicts the myths of heroism and redemption following him. Accommodating both at the same time, the simplicity and the uniqueness of this hero and his time, is our very concern."